The completion of a journal always seems as momentous thing to me, as does the act of first marking the blank pages of a fresh one. Both of these events occurred this weekend.
Feb. 12, 2010
I read Simone Weil on the train during the long ride to the Loop. The other books that I’m in the midst of meandering through are either too big or require too much concentration. Weil’s, Waiting for God, a light paperback broken conveniently into letters and essays, is a book that often rises to mind but since I left Florida has been out of reach, boxed amongst a motley assortment of other texts in my parent’s attic. When I was home for Christmas I was determined to remember to bring it back with me, and I did. She has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That is, until I read C.S. Lewis’, That Hideous Strengt,h and the prevailing theme of obedience put me in mind of something that Weil had said on the subject, something about the preeminence of obedience. Happily, I hit upon it (and something very similar in sentiment from Bonheoffer in his Letters from Prison), dog-eared and underlined. Weil, in fact, had many things to say on the subject. It was the driving force of her life. In a letter to Fr. Perrin, her great friend and Catholic advocate, she writes; “If it were conceivable that in obeying God one should bring about one’s own damnation while in disobeying him one might be saved, I should still choose the way of obedience.”
Her firm adherence to duty did not attach her to the Church, however, quite the contrary. I had remembered her writing something of this and found where she detailed her reasoning in letters to Fr. Perrin. This is what I was reading on the train. I did not find answers to my questions about religion and vocation amongst Weil’s letters. She did not have answers even for herself. What I did find is that I have been asking the wrong question. I have been asking, “Should I become Catholic?” A more helpful question is, “Where does love for God lead me?”
“We have to abandon ourselves to the pressure, to run to the exact spot whither it impels us and not go one step farther…whatever stage we may have reached, we must do nothing more than we are irresistibly impelled to do, not even in the way of goodness…”
“I think that with very important things we do not overcome our obstacles. We look at them fixedly for as long as is necessary until, if they are dues to the power of illusion, they disappear…”
Incidentally…this journal has come to an end. All things must. In closing, some words from Merton that I read today:
“Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of ever shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success…What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted…”
-Thomas Merton, from “Learning to Live”
Feb. 14, 2010
A new journal feels like a fresh start. That first page is like the first day you wake up and feel with all your senses in a way you cannot explain to anyone, even yourself, that a new season has begun (I find that I experience this most with the dawn of Autumn).
I am sitting at Ennui, my new favorite coffee house. I have finished a long letter and in the process of writing it unmasked a set of feelings that have for the past month been parading through my mind wearing an assortment of costumes that ranged from the clever to the absurd. Their unveiling occurred in the midst of a rather intense and seemingly unrelated RCIA session. Sweet epiphany.
After finishing the letter, which also contained some vague references to my “values” and “aspirations,” I breathed a deep sigh of release and rose for a refill. I returned with fresh coffee and a question: “What are my values and aspirations?” My response was not a detailed, specific list but a root source from which a number of varied articulations might rise with equal relevance. I found a blank space amidst my notes and handouts and scribbled out the following:
How I begin to define my primary values in life—my view of what it means to be alive:
To receive/pursue/develop relationship with God, believing God is Love and that through this relationship I become a conduit of love, delivering it to the world; directing that love toward all living things; making every choice out of the context of an abiding sense of personal responsibility and reverence for life; sustained by a sense of hope that this God is indeed Love/Truth and at work; enlivened by a sense of wonder and delight at the gift of being able to perceive Beauty and Mystery and to share in them.
The original ended, actually, with the phrase “reverence for life,” but the remainder requested that it might be included as I wrote. I failed to include that the hope is so vital in light of the formidable weight that can accompany an acceptance of responsibility and the ability to perceive not only what is Beauty and Mystery but also what is Broken and Ugly. These last at times appearing to be the most prevalent and powerful. So hope; yes and also trust.
“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.”